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December 9, 2022

PSD – on a new path?

PSD plays the card of early elections, if the no-confidence motion passes in Parliament. In this case, even voices of the ruling coalition are in favour of the electoral test. Early elections would be a premiere in post-communist Romania. And so was a successful no-confidence motion, until last year. But, as the premier dismissed by no-confidence vote actually was able to keep his position, one may say that replacing a premier via no-confidence vote would be a first for Romania as well.

With the leaders of the ruling coalition taking all the measures to make sure that nobody defects and supports the opposition, there are slim chances for the motion to pass. In fact, the purpose of the motion is not necessarily to topple the cabinet. The Social-Democrats are in an early electoral campaign, justified by the favourable context.

The government is at the lowest popularity score ever, the president’s star begins to fade and opinion polls start to reveal a wish for change.

Furthermore, the Social-Democrats have a new president who is young, combative and ambitious. He pushed the party into drafting a ruling programme that will mark an obvious return to leftist values and militated for the adoption of measure aimed at increasing the level of democracy within PSD, such as electing its president through the vote of all its members. In this context, the no-confidence motion rather belongs to a war of attrition meant to speed up the collapse of the power and the chances of the opposition, at the right time. The ‘strategy of the right time’ is more important than it seems.

In a certain way, the long time until the next elections makes the opposition’s political game more difficult. The electorate’s versatility may reverse today’s upward trend, which explains the hurry in dealing serious blow to the opponent. But, no matter how strong the pressure, the way it is applied will be decisive. All in all, PSD needs a timetable of its assaults against the fortress of the power. Does such a strategy exist, or is it just improvisation?

For the time being, what persists is the idea of a risky conflict with the president. It is obvious that winning the government, with Traian Basescu as president, is no easy task.

Hence, though a new move to suspend him is highly difficult, weakening his public position remains a priority. Victor Ponta actually hopes he will become premier at a time when the president will be just a shadow of the past, easy to ignore or provoke. To this view, he already chose the weapon of populism, very successfully used by Traian Basescu himself in the past. But Ponta has its own kind of populism. First, he uses the myth of impetuous youth that seeks rapid solutions. This is an advantage, because the population’s unrest is getting more acute each day. Second, he resorts to old-fashioned leftist rhetoric, but avoids the awkward ideological discourse that made people suspect Ion Iliescu of anti-democratic temptations.

Victor Ponta is no revolutionist, but he knows how to use protest slogans. It is easy to describe Traian Basescu as a new Ceausescu who despises his people, but this cannot replace a thorough analysis of the political context of his presidential mandate. The Social-Democrat leader tries to use the lesson learned from his opponent: simple and well-aimed messages, plus a minimum symbolic identification. PSD proposes the progressive tax, aware of how much has meant in 2004 convincing the voters about the economic benefits of the flat tax. Now, he tries the opposite option, but in the same spirit of electoral advertising. He proposes measures that once again focus on the state’s vocation of assistance: minimum VAT for basic food products, compensating the price of medicines for the underprivileged pensioners, subsidies for farmers, keeping the price of household energy blocked at the current levels, exempting small pensions from the payment of income tax, curbing the contributions to the welfare system etc.

Given today’s measures of austerity, such promises will certainly bring votes, many votes. But populism is not enough. Traian Basescu won in 2004 through populism plus the political offer of an alliance. Victor Ponta tries to take advantage of the crisis, without coming with a stable political formula. In subtext, there is his aspiration to have a PSD-only government, or at least a post-electoral alliance with the Liberals and possibly with UDMR. But nobody speaks about rejuvenating the dynamic of political institutions when the Social-Democrats will take the power. After the years when Traian Basescu changed the rules of the ‘de facto’ political game on the fly, populist promises are not enough to convince those people who think less emotionally.

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